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Farmer hailed as 'hero' for exposing oil scandal

2014/09/14 21:34:22

Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) A 60-year-old farmer in Pingtung County was hailed as a hero on Sunday after it was revealed that he was a key figure behind the exposure of the recent oil scandal in Taiwan.

The Apple Daily reported Sunday that the farmer, who declined to be named, spent two years gathering evidence on his own to expose the wrongdoings of the underground factory operated by Kuo Lieh-cheng that produced the questionable oil, after officials in the southern county failed to take his complaints seriously.

The farmer and his neighbors, whose farmland has been polluted by Kuo's factory, reported the factory's questionable practices to the Pingtung County Environmental Protection Bureau five times, but to no avail.

He then decided to take matters into his own hands, according to the Apple Daily article.

He purchased digital cameras and surveillance equipment and gathered evidence for two years, before reporting his findings to police in Taichung in central Taiwan, the report said.

The Taichung City Police Department confirmed Sunday that the farmer reported the underground factory to the department in November 2013 through a friend who is acquainted with a member of the department and provided photos and video clips that he took.

The department said it then forwarded the case to the Pingtung District Prosecutors' Office, which led the investigation that eventually exposed the nationwide recycled waste oil scandal.

The scandal has centered on Kaohsiung-based Chang Guann Co., which was found to have bought oil extracted from putrid kitchen waste and other substandard ingredients from Kuo.

Kuo's oils were used by the company to make 782 metric tons of its Chuan Tung brand cooking oil, which was distributed to more than 1,200 food processors and restaurants around Taiwan.

The discovery forced the recall of numerous food products from snacks to instant noodles to traditional Chinese cakes.

Lin Ya-wen, director of the Pingtung County Environmental Protection Bureau, confirmed Sunday that his bureau received five telephone complaints about Kuo's factory between 2011 and 2013.

But aside from the phone calls, it did not receive any photos or other documents, or else it would have acted differently, Lin said.

Yu Tung-pi, an inspector with the bureau, said bureau inspectors did examine Kuo's factory, but did not find any violations and were restricted by their limited authority under the law.

Inspectors could not force Kuo to show his license or tell them where he sold his oil and could only fine him NT$1,200 (US$39.9) and NT$3,000 for residual oil in ditches, he said.

Yu said the case was cracked after six months of investigation by prosecutors.

Lin said he has asked to be disciplined by Pingtung County Magistrate Tsao Chi-hung, while Yu has asked to be transferred to another post.

(By Liao Jen-kai, Kuo Chih-hsuan and Christie Chen)